[Reprinted from original]
Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on a fur trading post exhibit before moving to their next project.
And they could use more help.
Like many of the projects at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Visitor Center, 333 N. Dixie Hwy., volunteers with backgrounds in carpentry, masonry and metalworking donate their time and skills to help build exhibits and projects at the center.
According to Community Volunteer Ambassador Joseph Dowd, construction of the fur trading post began in early 2021 but progress was slow due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the task of finding help to build the exhibit.
Toward the end of the year, with more volunteers on hand, a group constructed the trading post using repurposed wood from two cabins located in Monroe County.
American chestnut and red oak, wood estimated to be between 250 to 300 years old, was used to build a replica of a mercantile that would have been located along the River Raisin in the early 19th century.
Staff from the National Parks Service, along with volunteer researchers, worked collectively to investigate the accuracy of the project.
Once complete, the post will be fully stocked with modern reproductions of various goods so that visitors can get a sense of what life was like more than 200 years ago.
Dowd said the post served as a trading hub between European traders and Native Americans where goods were exchanged for furs, and is part of the education center which focuses on when the French settled in Michigan.
“The fur trade was integral to the settling and exploration of the Great Lakes region. The chief item that was sought after was beaver fur,” Dowd said. “In Europe and on the east coast of the United States, beaver-felt hats were the height of fashion.”
The high demand for beaver fur led to the blending of French, American, English, and Native American cultures working together in business, which led to the exchange of goods and ideas.
Native Americans would obtain the furs through trapping and then trade with fur traders in exchange for items such as steel tools, firearms and beads, which were often used for currency. Dowd said that when visitors walk inside the trading post they will get a tactile sense of what the past was like.
“Exhibits like these are important. It’s a better bridge for us in 2022 to be able to get a sense of what people living 200 years ago actually were doing in their daily lives,” he added.
About 10 years ago, Jim Crammond began participating in historical reenactments and after retiring last July from Timiny Railroad Construction, he became an active volunteer. The Monroe resident has a penchant for working with wood. It’s a hobby he’s had for about 25 years.
Crammond, who has experience in building furniture and likes to work with woods like cherry and black walnut, said he researched timber framing and log construction before building the trading post. He estimates he’s volunteered more than 400 hours and admits building the post was a bit of a challenge.
“We started out with random logs from two different cabins and they were different sizes. So, we had to sort through them,” he said. “It was like a jigsaw puzzle, piecing things together.”
Crammond, along with four others, volunteers on Wednesdays to work on projects before the public can enjoy all of the exhibits featured in the education section at the center.
Projects include a fiber workshop and an exhibit depicting Hull’s Trace, the first federal highway in the U.S. originating in the Monroe County area during the War of 1812.
Brothers Bruce and Larry Vanisacker, both of Monroe, started volunteering last year and are currently working on the fiber workshop. Surrounded by the sounds of construction, Mary Minney of Monroe concentrates on warping a weaving loom with cording used to make rugs.
The retired educator, a staff member and volunteer, suggested the idea of implementing an area where visitors could learn more about different types of textiles from the 1800s.
Using a log cabin pattern, Minney will be able to make several different size rugs to display. She creates on a loom that was given to her from a woman who lives in Adrian.
Minney said once the workshop is complete, there will be a weaving island where visitors can learn more about textiles and participate in hands-on activities like rug hooking, rope making, and lace making.
Before visitors can officially be welcomed to the learning center, there is a list of projects needing completion and volunteers of all skill levels are encouraged to help. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Joseph Dowd at 734-639-2345 Ext 171.
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